Anaximander: And the Nature of Science

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Anaximander: And the Nature of Science

Anaximander: And the Nature of Science

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He suggests that it was the combination of having the first fully phonetic simple alphabet, the lack of dominant royalty and the independence of the city states that enabled this revolution in thinking in Miletus where Anaximander was based. In this formative book, published in English for the first time, he clearly senses Anaximander as a kindred spirit, though his claims for the Greek are based on scattered traces of evidence. It's like the best primer you can imagine for the non-scientist on why what you think you know about Ptolemy and Copernicus, or Popper and Kuhn, is not quite right -- Sam Leith ― Twitter --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition. An engraving of Anaximander: ‘the first human to argue that rain was caused by the observable movements of air and the heat of the sun rather than the intervention of gods’.

Given that these are different ISBN numbers, what has changed in this new version; the original was already 5 star. Is it necessary to hold that Anaximander was an atheist or naturalist and that Anaximander’s break through in scientific inquiry and analysis wholly discredits a metaphysical or religious world view? Half of the book is a collection of thoughts of Rovelli about the role of science and its main characteristics: simple but important concepts. In this elegant work, acclaimed physicist Carlo Rovelli brings to light the importance of Anaximander's overlooked legacy to modern science.Rovelli thus works in this book a little like an archaeologist sifting a burial site for clues, finding reference points in later historical accounts by Pliny and Aristotle and Herodotus among others. That process, the idea that knowledge was something not handed down by gods or elders, but evolving, something to be quickly interrogated and built upon, set in motion, Rovelli argues, what we understand as the scientific method. He describes how the Greeks established that the Earth was not flat using a nearly identical scientific inquiry used by the Chinese to establish that the Earth was flat. Essentially he claims that Anaximander was the first person who looked for explanations of natural events, rather than crediting spirits of one sort or another with such effects . That something, physicist Carlo Rovelli argues in this enjoyable and provocative little book, occurred in the interaction between two of the place’s greatest minds.

Anaximander's legacy includes the revolutionary idea that the earth floats in a void, that the world can be understood in natural rather than supernatural terms, that animals evolved, and that universal laws govern all phenomena. Carlo Rovelli’s writings are fascinating and the translation by Marion Rosenberg is faultless (I’m guessing because I don’t have Italian and I haven’t read the original). Anaximander assimilated Thales’s ideas, treated them with due respect, but then rejected and improved on them and came up with more exact theories of his own. Though part of Rovelli’s project is to grant Anaximander greater prominence in histories of civilisation, he is equally interested in examining the social factors that led to this big bang moment for rational thought. Carlo Rovelli is a theoretical physicist who has made significant contributions to the physics of space and time.The rest of the book (about half of it) concentrates on what science is, the dangers of cultural relativism and understanding the world without gods. That message, as relevant in Rovelli’s native Italy as in contemporary Britain, is this: “Each time that we – as a nation, a group, a continent or a religion – look inward in celebration of our specific identity we do nothing but lionise our own limits and sing of our stupidity. He then goes on to discuss how, over the ages, society started to base knowledge on empirical evidence, rather than on the sayings of devine kings or ancient books. This literal groundbreaking idea – inventing at a stroke the idea of the cosmos – was, as the historian of science Karl Popper suggested, “one of the boldest, most revolutionary and most portentous ideas in the whole history of human thinking”.

In my experience, working scientists often get history of science wrong - in this case, as it's arguably more history of philosophy, I can't say whether or not Carlo Rovelli is straying far from what's known to make his point, but what he has to say about the Greek philosopher Anaximander from the 6th century BC is fascinating. Currently head of the quantum gravity group at the Centre de Physique Théorique at Aix-Marseille University, Rovelli became a household name after publishing his first books, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics and Reality Is Not What It Seems, which became international bestsellers. Admittedly, Carlo Rovelli relies on one sentence left by Anaximander and some additional findings and analysis attributed to him. But this book teaches me that the answers will not be obtained from pure observation of physical phenomena.In this book Rovelli presents his view of science and why he believes Anaximander deserves the credit for starting the enterprise.

Over two millennia ago, a Greek philosopher had a number of wondrous insights that paved the way to cosmology, physics, geography, meteorology and biology, setting in motion a new way of seeing the world. In this, Rovelli suggests, he sends perhaps his most potent message through the ages, “one that can serve as a warning to us today”. Rovelli has improved hugely since his early super-waffly titles - if you have an interest in where science came from, this is arguably his best so far. Continued scientific inquiry will reveal those aspects of the theories provided by Einstein and Heisenberg that are absolute truth. Anaximander celebrates the radical lack of certainty that defines the scientific quest for knowledge.

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